April 22 2015 021Gail and I attend Sunday morning worship at The Salvation Army on 26th Street in East St Louis IL those Sundays we are home in St Louis.  Actually Kirkwood, as we await moving to what will be our home in St Louis city.  That’s another story.  Here’s my story about two Bibles of East St Louis.

A few weeks ago we crossed the Mississippi and joined a very small group for worship.  Several were children.  We got talking about the Bible, looking up passages for our lesson, a free unstructured sort of Bible study.  One girl mentioned that she didn’t have a Bible.  Her name is Maya.  I remembered this.

The next morning I went to the table in my office and took the new Bible I had just received for joining a year-long Salvation Army reading plan.  I picked it up and put it back in its protective sleeve.  A few days later I handed it to my Corps Officer, Lieutenant AJ Zachery.  He delivered it to Maya.

Last week Gail and I were back at East St Louis Corps.  We met with a group of children to prepare them to become Junior Soldiers, entry level for young people into Salvation Army life and service.  That evening Maya was there learning along with the others.

I was standing in the chapel.  Maya walked over and stood in front of me, looking off to the side.  She seemed to be thinking.  ‘Are you the one who gave me a Bible?’  Yes, that was me.  Maya was silent for a few seconds, looking like she was pondering this.

‘Thank you.’  And then she walked off to join the others who were busy being children.  Playing, chattering, teasing each other, asking us all kinds of questions.April 22 2015 032

That’s the first Bible of East St Louis.  Here’s the second.

The day after Maya thanked me I attended an early morning committee meeting of the St Louis Advisory Board.  Advisory Boards, well, advise The Salvation Army. St Louis has an exceptional Board.

Someone on the committee shared a story about a man they know, a friend, who told them that as a young person living in East St Louis he was given a Bible by a Salvation Army Officer, name now forgotten.   That was in 1957.  He still has that Bible.  That simple act of being given a Bible made an impact in his life.  The Bible.

I want to connect these two stories.  In them I believe there is some kind of meaning.

The Tuft of Flowers is a poem by Robert Frost.  He describes one morning coming to a freshly mown field to work.  He discovers that the mower, now gone, left “a tall tuft of flowers beside a brook”:

The mower in the dew had loved them thus,                                                                                                       By leaving them to flourish, not for us,                                                                                                                Nor yet to draw one thought of ours to him,                                                                                                     But from sheer morning gladness at the brim.

Alone in the field, he no longer feels alone.  The flowers left by the mower has created a bond.

“Men work together,” I told him from the heart,                                                                                      “Whether they work together or apart.”

Many of us who work in urban places with very hard conditions, where life is cut down too early, too often … the Bible has meaning, impact.  It especially has impact when it is used as a message, a gift, that someone notices me.

From Psalm 103:

As for mortals, their days are like grass;                                                                                                           they flourish like a flower of the field;                                                                                                                   for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,                                                                                                          and its place knows it no more.

But the steadfast love of the Lord                                                                                                                             is from everlasting to everlasting                                                                                                                            on those who fear him,                                                                                                                                          and his righteousness to children’s children,                                                                                                         to those who keep his covenant                                                                                                                            and remember to do his commandments.


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We gather this Sunday afternoon in Forest Park for Earth Day.  
Forest Park shares with New York City’s Central Park the distinction of being the largest urban park in America.  It is reason to be proud as a St Louisan.  It speaks of our St Louis forbears’ foresight.  They were aware of the need for urban density to have space and place.  To put it rather imprecisely, urban people need places like this.  

You would think that by virtue of the close quarters and many social structures city dwellers would experience rich, close relationships.  But it often is not so.  It is a paradox that urban density leads to people being distant from each other. A sense of isolation, of alienation, even suspicion and hostility.  Factions form and find expression in social protest against injustice.  The existence of violence and isolation.  These dark aspects are part of our urban millennium.
Earth Day gives us pause to reflect on the integrating and interdependent nature of global life.  Today we are more aware than ever of our interdependence.  We are attempting to integrate our human existence with life on this earth.  
But does this take place in our cities?  How can we participate in the systems of and the system of a city?  And how then does our urban life become part of the global life of humanity, and of the globe itself?
Official Catholic social teaching calls for Christians to be stewards of the earth. So, to apply this to the system of a city calls for urban stewardship.  If Christians are called to be responsible for creation, and CST understands humans central to creation, then how does this apply to the city?
Is the creation we name ‘city’ existing in a responsible way on the earth?  Are our cities earth-friendly?  Human-friendly?
The German theologian Jurgen Moltmann presents further considerations for our understanding in an ethic of the earth.  Integration and interdependence are now becoming the focus of sciences as they search for answers to global warming and other environmental challenges.  The Gaia theory of earth, and I don’t accept it in its mystical or god sense, gives science a new perspective in bringing wholeness.  Wesleyan-Salvation Army people can look at it as an expansion of holiness, of full salvation. 
What would an integrated and interdependent life and ministry look like in our cities?  Is this why there is a focus on community?
And if so, then how does this impact the urban mission?  How does it direct our urban ministry?
Biblically and theologically it may be part of the apokatastasis panton.  If it has been God’s “good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:9-10), then integrating and interdependent life has great implications for what God is doing in all places, including in the city.
To gather is to integrate and acknowledge interdependency.  On God’s terms, not on the terms of “the course of this world … the ruler of the power of the air … the desires of flesh and senses” for to do so leads us to become “children of wrath” (Eph 2:1-3).  
Gathering is an agrarian image.  It brings to mind scriptural images too; the Final Day.  And our Temple Gardens?
Integration represents a return from scientific compartmentalization and specialization.  The geosciences pull together the discoveries of science to now investigate their interdependent and integrated beauty. 
An Earth Day perspective pulls together that which has been dissected and isolated for study and understanding.  In this world, in our cities.  This is apokatastasis panton.

Last Sunday there were eight of us together for dinner at a family restaurant near St Louis.  I sat across the table from Bill (I’ll call him).  I had a cheeseburger.  Bill, a patty melt.  We both had fries.  And Bill told me his story.

He was a mess before he figured how to get his act together through a combination of approaches that included Narcotics Anonymous.  And volunteering at the Salvation Army corps in his town, doing a good job in its food pantry.  Keeping busy is the main thing for Bill who knows keeping busy makes it hard to get back into trouble.

One day the Lieutenant asked Bill if he attended church.  No.  Come back here this Sunday says the Lieutenant.  Bill did and three years later he’s a regular member of the group that gathers to worship on Sunday at the Salvation Army.

Bill told me that he has two mentors at the Salvation Army.  They have helped him grow as a person, to experience more of the full life human beings were meant for.  All part of getting his act together, to keep out of trouble. 4 13 2015 003

Recently, Bill decided to become a Soldier in The Salvation Army.  There are a lot of promises a Soldier makes including abstaining from the use of “alcoholic drink, tobacco, the non-medical use of addictive drugs, gambling, pornography, the occult and all else that could enslave the body or spirit.”

Bill talked about the special ability he has.  A gift to help people who are in a really bad way.  Like Rachel (I’ll call her) who lives without an address, who at times has maggots in her scalp, who nobody in town can do a thing with.

But Rachel listens to Bill.

It may have something to do with Bill’s face which has an expression of pleasant accepting neutrality, and his manner, which communicates to people that here is a person who has undergone a very hard time for a long time, who has come through.  Bill says it has something to do with grace and mercy and love which in some way he has been able to reach out and touch.  He says that he was a bad person for many years, but that he knows he’s not anymore.  Rachel listens to Bill.

Bill lives on $700 a month, and he also receives some assistance due to his situation.  Keeping busy keeps Bill of out trouble.  And Rachel listens to him.  And it helps her in small ways to also keep out of trouble.

The road back home after Sunday dinner with Bill

The road back home after Sunday dinner with Bill

Do people tend to live in neighborhoods with those like themselves?

duh.

But we may not realize that this tendency creates other dynamics. For instance, the economic segregation of Americans.

The Washington Post reports on a new study from researchers at the University of Toronto showing that the wealthy increasingly “isolate and wall themselves off from the less well-to-do’ in America’s cities.  Which cities are at the top of this self isolation-by-income category?

The least economically segregated cities?

Here is the full article by Emily Badger on the work of Richard Florida and Charlotta Mellander.

Florida and Mellander note one particular result of this urban economic segregation –

While there have always been affluent neighborhoods, gated enclaves, and fabled bastions of wealth like Newport, East Hampton, Palm Beach, Beverly Hills, and Grosse Pointe, the people who cut the lawns, cooked and served the meals, and fixed the plumbing in their big houses used to live nearby—close enough to vote for the same councilors, judges, aldermen, and members of the board of education. That is less and less the case today.

There is a new distance being created between urban dwellers in our largest cities.  Not only physical but in the socio-political worlds.  It means less sharing.  It must also certainly mean a lessened sense of a common good.

What we are now seeing more and more in the Urban Millennium are urban dwellers “experiencing the very same city in very different ways.”

Tonight I’m reading the summary placed online this week by the Equal Justice Initiative of its report Lynching in America:  Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror.Lynching in America

It reports on the ongoing project of tallying up “terror lynchings” (nearing 4,000) which took place in the twelve most active lynching states in America (1877-1950) and the effects this social phenomenon has had on America’s way with African Americans.

What I think of is the specific effect it has had on how African Americans relate to those of us who are not African American.

Sometimes it is expressed by ‘yes, sir’.

In many places and certainly in younger generations it’s a fading practice, perhaps one that has been gone for a few decades.  But in some places and especially with those of a certain age with close roots in the South it has persisted.  It can make a person uneasy, feel uncomfortable.  It doesn’t feel right.  It seems to challenge the notion that all men are created equal.  And at times it has defined relationships in a way that runs contrary to what I believe, what I want them to be.

But the Equal Justice Initiative Lynching In America report makes clear why it is a social practice not so easily discarded.

In 1940, Jesse Thornton was lynched in Luverne, Alabama, for referring to a white police
officer by his name without the title of ‘mister’.

Socio-cultural memory persists in keeping ‘yes, sir’ as part of the African American way to relate to white Americans.  This kind of memory lasts for a long time.

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This memory with its many other nuances creates the backdrop for a saying Dr. William Bentley of the National Black Evangelical Association was fond of repeating.  I recall it going something like this –

If you’re white, you’re alright.  Yellow, you’re mellow.  Brown, stick around.

Black?  jump back!

Even when ‘yes, sir’ isn’t spoken, it isn’t necessarily absent.  There are silent ‘yes, sirs’ yet present in interactions, relationships.  Even friendships.

Care in navigating interracial relationships means being careful.  Ready to jump back.  Stay close to the door.  Mistrust, suspicion, guardedness, uncertainty often come with it.

This means that I have a responsibility, as a non-African American person. To acknowledge a long season of wrongs and power structures.  To memorialize it in ways such as Equal Justice Initiative plans to place markers where lynchings took place.  To disavow and disassemble the apparatus built on all of that.

Yes, sir.

It was the end of the meeting.  The Captain walked to the pulpit.  It was time to pray.

We had prayed, sang, spoken of our faith in a God who calls us to be peacemakers in a world where great forces are at work to exclude, separate, marginalize people.  Based on race, religion, class.  Now we felt good.  It was time to close in prayer.

But the Captain had something to tell us first.

He told us that God had spoken to him this afternoon.  The God who calls us to go.  To places we would not choose for ourselves.  The God of Abraham.  Moses.  Jeremiah.  Of Jesus, the only begotten Son, who came to earth from heaven.

The Captain told us of a time when he worked in Kirkwood MO.  Kirkwood is one of many communities ringing St Louis.  The Captain lived in St Louis at that time.  He is African-American.  He did not have a good experience in Kirkwood.  It was an experience of prejudice and bigotry.  In Kirkwood.

But now he lives in Kirkwood.  Irony.  The Captain was assigned by the Salvation Army to a living quarters in Kirkwood.  No, not the Army.  The hand of God.

The Captain told us that he now sees.  Racism, or open arms?  Smiles, or hard looks?  God has called him to be in Kirkwood.  Welcomed or not.  He sees what God’s doing.  God loves to send his people to go confound this beloved world.  Challenging it.  Inviting it.  Changing it.  And when we follow where he leads us we are changed, too, the Captain said.  He knew.  He had been changed.

He invited us to join him as he prayed.  We were quiet as we bowed our heads and he prayed.

After the meeting a woman came and asked me about the Captain.  She lives in Kirkwood, has for many years.  She’s white.  She wanted to speak with him.  She wanted to talk with him about what had happened years ago in her town.  It bothered her that Kirkwood meant what it did to him.  She wanted to find out what she could do.  And to let him know that she considered him her neighbor.  In Kirkwood.

I pointed to him over on the other side of the crowd.  I watched her walk toward the Captain.  Someone else came up to ask me something.

The meeting was over.  A band had played.  The Territorial Commander had preached.  Eloquent young men and women had spoken.

But I believe that the meeting of the Captain and the woman from Kirkwood made the angels sing in St Louis that afternoon.

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I enjoy Christena Cleveland’s blog and I want you to see her most recent, 10 Reconciliation Books to Read, a great resource in our post-Michael Brown America.

I’ve enjoyed Julia Dinsmore’s My Name is Child of God … Not ‘Those People’.  The work of both Chris Heurtz and Mark Gornick have taught me much.

I recommend Christena’s list.

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Lest we forget during this busy holiday season, and especially for Salvation Army folks –

“Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work.”  ~ Mother Teresa

This quote came via David Tooley at THQ; thanks, Dave.

Alex S. MacLean writes

Cities are and will continue to be the greenest places to live on a per-capita basis. This is made only more striking when I fly over the suburbs and see the inefficiency of single-family homes. They are dependent on cars, for one thing, and are connected by miles of paved roads to single-use zones of office and retail developments. These areas will not fare well, if we begin to mitigate climate change through measures like a carbon tax.

Detroit’s rebound is just a matter of time.

Check out MacLean’s Detroit By Air.  It’s revealing of Detroit’s current state.  A lot of empty abandoned areas.  But, you can see that there really are signs for hope.

A phone by John, near Dexter and Chicago.

A phone by John, near Dexter and Chicago.

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Sometimes it’s Fritos.  Sometimes it’s Cheetos.  Doritos, always in third place.

This evening when I saw the photo of Kierra and John S. serving at a Salvation Army canteen counter, my eyes voted Cheetos.  Tonight I feel more cheesy than freezy.

Here’s the photo and a few words from the Urban Mission Center about a Ferguson experience last August for Temple House folks.  BTW, I do miss John S. who’s back in Colorado before his next urban adventure.  Dr. Who.UMC logo

If you haven’t seen yet here’s a set of photos from last Sunday’s graffiti at the KFC in Ferguson.

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